CONCERNS have been raised after it was revealed there was a sharp rise in the cost of rural crime in Cumbria last year.

Worrying new figures from rural insurer NFU Mutual found rural crime in 2019 cost the county £800,000, up 10.1 percent on the previous year.

The insurer said the rise is being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

Jonathan Benson, of Harry Place Farm, Great Langdale, said 350 of his sheep had gone missing that he could not account for since he took over the farm’s tenancy five years ago.

“Over a year you will probably have 20 sheep which will die across your flock, but there’s no way you should be missing those kinds of numbers,” he said.

Although NFU Mutual attributed the rise in the cost of crime to gangs targeting the countryside, Mr Benson was not so sure in his case, believing it was other farmers targeting his sheep.

He said the the ‘sheer numbers’ going missing indicated dogs were used in the thefts and the culprits had farming backgrounds.

He has never had any machinery go missing but said people taking quad bikes tended to leave them nearby immediately after the crime to see if the owners or police would track them. The thieves then return later-on to take the vehicles away.

“They could go around all night stealing some quad bikes, and trade them in,” he said.

Pip Simpson, of Poole Bank Farm, Troutbeck, took matters into his own hands four years ago by dyeing his sheep orange so they would be more conspicuous.

He said that, before he did this, about 400 sheep of his were stolen in six years.

Since then, the thefts have stopped, but he believed this was due to him finding out the route the sheep were taking to the black market and stopping it.

“It’s getting worse and worse and worse - rural crime,” he said.

“There’s not enough police around.

“It’s alright having a quick ride around the village once a week (but) it just needs more rural police.”

Superintendent Carl Patrick, of Cumbria Constabulary, said: “The recruitment of additional officers has been made possible due to public support for the increase in the police council tax precept as well as the national Operation Uplift to increase numbers.

he constabulary earlier this year began to reintroduce the stationing of officers in some rural towns.

“We believe these officers will be a major factor in the drive to prevent rural crime.

“Local officers are more familiar with the geography and are able to respond more efficiently and effectively to local concerns, providing a recognisable presence for local people worried about crime in rural areas

“It’s our job to catch those responsible for such crimes, arrest them and bring them before the courts.

“But we would urge anyone with high-value items such as motorbikes, quad bikes, farm machinery or other vehicles to do everything they can to ensure their property is not an easy target.

“We know that resident rural communities already take great steps to secure their property but it would be worth everyone revisiting current arrangements to make sure vehicles are locked away out of sight.

“Are you keeping the keys to vehicles secure and away from the vehicles themselves? Can you increase security on your property by installing CCTV cameras and investing in better and stronger locks?

“We also need local communities to be our eyes and ears. If you see something suspicious and suspect someone is out looking for burglary targets, contact police immediately.”